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Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

The Ice Courts, part 4: national relationships and wants

The final region-level step in Worlds Without Number [paid link] is to define the relationships between nations and one thing each of them wants from each of the others. Because of the sheer number of things I have to create, this step usually takes me longer than the others.

The Ice Courts region

If you want to read the rest of the Ice Courts material, or check out anything else about the world of Dormiir, the Godsbarrow handbook collects everything I’ve created for this setting.

Define the relationships between the groups.

Even though Lonþyr and Yrfeđe are more concerned with affairs in their own region (the Gilded Lands), they have a foot in the Ice Courts as well. This is primarily because of their proximity to the Courts and the tendency of two of those Courts (Ahlsheyan and Zull Pyrendi) to exert their power on the sea which separates the Ice Courts from the Gilded Lands.

Ahlsheyan

  • Valkenschirm: It’s complicated. Ahlsheyan has one foot in the Ice Courts and things are better in that region thanks to Valkenschirm’s strength, but Ahlsheyan is also part of the Unlucky Isles and has a toehold in Kurthunar, too. As such, the decision to assassinate Abäschern, while popular in the south, also froze a sizeable portion of Ahlsheyan in perpetual winter — so sentiments in the rest of the country are mixed.
    • Want: Though it is a state secret of the highest order, Ahlsheyan wants to relocate Abäschern’s corpse — at a minimum, further south; ideally far, far away. They don’t know if this will end the Abvärwinter (many think it will have no effect), but it’s worth a shot. Done openly, this would plunge the Ice Courts into war. But is there a way to do it in secret?
  • Skølprene: There’s something wrong here, but we’re not sure what it is. The Harmony isn’t what it seems, but why does no one say that? Rule by one is inferior to rule by a triumvirate.
    • Want: To goad Skølprene into war against Valkenschirm, leaving it open to annexation by Ahlsheyan — and bringing the Harmony down several pegs in the process.
  • Myedgrith: Insufferably pretentious and decadent, with weak ambitions that don’t reach beyond the Ice Courts, but useful as a foil against the other Ice Courts getting too powerful.
    • Want: To goad Myedgrith into war against Valkenschirm, which would destabilize the Ice Courts and give Ahlsheyan an opportunity to annex the northern reaches of Valkenschirm and Skølprene.
  • Zull Pyrendi: A potential ally, if it weren’t for all the piracy. Both Ahl and Zull are at home underground and in dark places, so there’s a peculiar natural kinship there.
    • Want: To broker a “no piracy” treaty with as many of the Zull colonies as possible. The Ahl would love to tap the Zull’s expertise in cultivating mushrooms (which the dwarves grow in vast quantities), and can offer the Zull safe, warm underground homes for expansion.
  • Lonþyr: Pretenders to the waves and exploiters of the stone. Rotting from within. Fat on stolen wealth.
    • Want: To gut Lonþyr from within by way of supplying weapons, armor, food, and other resources to the Grshniki gnomes. This operation has been ongoing for a decade, and is at a crucial inflection point: a Lon naval vessel captured an Ahl smuggling ship, but not before they sent word via messenger bird. Do we hang them out to dry, preserving the larger effort, or double down and declare war against Lonþyr? Or is there a third way?
  • Yrfeđe: Every realm is an opportunity, and the Yr have much to trade — and many folks who might want to leave, if offered an opportunity in Ahlsheyan. Perhaps not an ally, but they could be.
    • Want: To recruit a troupe of renowned beast-hunters, the Aewll Cardurh, to participate as “honorary Ahl” in the next Hühneraar. They move around a lot, they don’t like outsiders, they’re technically not even for hire…what could go wrong?

Valkenschirm

  • Ahlsheyan: Somewhat aloof from the rest of the Ice Courts, yet also the source of much of the food and survival expertise on which we all rely. Steadfast and reliable.
    • Want: To annex a largely uninhabited portion of southern Ahlsheyan. The Valken don’t understand why the Ahl care, and the Ahl don’t understand why the Valken a) want it and b) think they should get it. A stubborn martial power vs. magically enhanced werewolves is a recipe for disaster.
  • Skølprene: Corpse-worshippers, blinkered by their adoration for the Hated One. Insufferable at parties. But skilled at the Great Hunt, and therefore demanding a certain amount of respect.
    • Want: The last Great Hunt winner was a pack from Skølprene, and one of the most hardline noble houses in Valkenschirm wants them dead so it won’t happen again. They’re not concerned about the political fallout (although they should be), but even so there’s a practical issue: How do you assassinate a pack of werewolves powerful enough to beat dozens of other packs in a region-wide display of martial prowess and hunting skills?
  • Myedgrith: A rival we greatly enjoy needling. All pretentiousness and no bite. Still weak enough to want gods in their lives.
    • Want: Resentment at the size of the area Myedgrith-to-be seized during the chaos after Abäschern’s death has simmered in Valkenschirm ever since. A decade-long plan is about to come to fruition, one involving six Valken noble families, two mercenary companies, and a fifth column of Valken spies who have lived in Myedgrith since the plan was first hatched. It’s simple: a week of bloody assassinations and uprisings in border holdings, and Valkenschirm swoops in with werewolf shock troops to claim a vast swath of what is now Myedgrith.
  • Zull Pyrendi: A strange people. But they feed everyone, and their weird islands are always warm and hospitable. And, despite being mushrooms, they somehow play the game of intrigue excruciatingly well — in their alien manner — and can even throw a surprisingly good masquerade ball. A conundrum.
    • Want: To build the first embassy on a Zull island, something the Zull have hitherto not allowed. Valkenschirm has no idea what to offer the Zull, and the Zull don’t want the embassy and so have little interest in telling them. The current plan within the Valken government is to cause a problem in Zull territory that only the Valken can solve, and use that as leverage. Once built, the embassy’s primary mission would be spying on the Zull.
  • Lonþyr: There’s something wrong with this place, something that troubles our senses. But we can’t tell what. It’s probably best that they’re an ocean away.
    • Want: For Lonþyr to never become a seagoing power. The simplest path is to keep them occupied with their troubles in the mountains, and with their neighbors. So Valkenschirm has created cadres of werewolf spies who pose as đargnr, and as Grshniki, to keep the pressure on Lonþyr from those two fronts.
  • Yrfeđe: So low-class as to be almost entirely beneath our notice. We killed a god, but they can’t even kill some tree-shadows?
    • Want: The one thing the Yr do well is brew brightmead, a naturally luminescent beverage that makes you feel warm and happy and melts your troubles away — and which also glows. Several noble houses in Valkenschirm are competing to establish a dedicated brewery-and-port combo in Yrfeđe, ensuring that they will then be able to throw the best parties.

Skølprene

  • Ahlsheyan: Generous with the fruits of their ingenuity and labors, and therefore a friend. (And, for those in the know, a potential victim.) But also powerful…too powerful.
    • Want: To assassinate one member of Ahlsheyan’s ruling triumvirate, and then take advantage of the ensuing time of instability in various ways. The assassination will appear to be an accident; Skølen warriors, materiel, and spies are already hidden along the border, waiting for the signal to sneak into Skølprene.
  • Valkenschirm: They control the Holy Vessel — Abäschern’s corpse — that rightfully belongs in Skølprene, so tensions tend to run high. But Valkenschirm is also canonically the Holy Seat of Abäschern in life, so there’s reverence as well. It’s complicated, and it makes for lots of skullduggery at parties.
    • Want: Rumors of the existence of the Paw of Abäschern, torn from His holy body (all evidence of which is hidden by his tomb), have persisted since Abäschern’s death. Skølprene has learned that it’s being held in a secret vault beneath a manor in the capital, and they’re going to obtain it at any cost.
  • Myedgrith: The opposite of all that we are. But also basically cousins, so it’s complicated.
    • Want: To annex a portion of Myedgrith along their shared border. A secret alliance has been made between Skølprene and three Myedine noble houses with border holdings. The houses plan to become preeminent in Skølprene; Skølprene plans to roll them into the Church and then eye another expansion to the south.
  • Zull Pyrendi: A longstanding staunch ally. The history of that alliance is centuries old, and it’s enshrined in church doctrine.
    • Want: To establish a major temple on one of the Zull islands, and more broadly to use that local foothold to spread the message of the Harmonious and Celestial Abäschern. At a god-colony level, most Zull know this faith makes no sense — and besides, they’re gods in their own right. But turning down a staunch ally isn’t easy…
  • Lonþyr: A wealthy nation with its hands full, ripe for the plucking (if woefully uncultured).
    • Want: As in neighboring Yrfeđe, to seed the land with Harmonic Temples. Look how excited your bitter rival is to welcome our faith! You wouldn’t want to be left out in the cold, would you?
  • Yrfeđe: Theirs is a dark place, and ours is a god of celestial light. They need us to ease their suffering. And relieve them of their wealth.
    • Want: To build a Harmonic Temple in every major settlement in Yrfeđe. These cheerful, brightly lit, surprisingly defensible church buildings will be an easy sell for many Yr communities.

Myedgrith

  • Ahlsheyan: Vexing. They have less at stake than the other Ice Courts, with so much occupying them elsewhere. Yet they supply much of our food, warmth, and trade goods. They’re so sturdy and useful…but also irritatingly good at intrigue, often without appearing to be.
    • Want: To intermarry the most politically powerful families in these two nations, bringing them closer together — and, if all goes well, giving the alliance leverage against the Ice Courts nations which sit between them.
  • Valkenschirm: Because Myedgrith is so decentralized, there are really many relationships with Valkenschirm. The most common revolve around hating that Valkenschirm is the center of everything (while refusing to acknowledge that), hating that they’re the best and most werewolf-y (ditto), and reveling in showing them up at every opportunity.
    • Want: The Black Pelts want Abäschern’s corpse relocated to Myedgrith, where they can worship it in the manner it deserves. Diplomatically, this is a non-starter — so the Black Pelts plan to steal it, instead. Whether they succeed or get caught and fail, this would likely start a war with Valkenschirm.
  • Skølprene: They could worship any god in the world, and they chose…that? They could hunt and run and mingle with the best of the best, and they chose…that? Baffling. Yet for all that, irritatingly good at courtly intrigue.
    • Want: To convince Skølprene to build its largest, grandest cathedral in Myedgrith, and then stretch out the construction endlessly and see how long it takes them to figure out we’re just messing with them.
  • Zull Pyrendi: Mushrooms cannot possibly belong in high society, therefore we shall pretend Zull Pyrendi does not exist. Except when we import all that food from them. And when they show up at parties with all the best psychedelic drugs. And when having trysts with mushroom-people is in fashion this season.
    • Want: A prominent Myedine noble family wants to forge a bond with a Zull colony through intermarriage. The colony objects; some among the Myedine family object, as well. But the betrothed do not, and their union could change politics in the Ice Courts in dramatic ways.
  • Lonþyr: It’s cute how they try to pretend to be real nobles. Why haven’t they killed their gods yet, or learned how to throw a proper masquerade ball? We’re also jealous of how unspeakably wealthy Lonþyr is, though.
    • Want: A joint mining operation in the Mormú-Hús Mountains, with the Myedine providing muscle and the Lon doing the mining, and profits split down the middle.
  • Yrfeđe: Who? Oh, those peasants. We bet they don’t even know what the seventeenth fork in a formal table setting is for. So far beneath our notice that we’ve never learned how to pronounce the name of their silly country.
    • Want: An especially dumb Myedine noble family wants to capture a đargnr (whatever that is) to exhibit at their next grand ball. This is a terrible idea that will almost certainly be farmed out to adventurers.

Zull Pyrendi

  • Ahlsheyan: Many find us strange; only a few do not, and the Ahl are among them. A bit uncultured, but fierce and strong on the seas. Looting their ships is always a challenge.
    • Want: The Zull want to start a new full-scale colony (a fruiting god-fungus hivemind) on the mainland, and since the colony needs to be kept reasonably warm that makes Ahlsheyan the logical choice. The fungal council is divided over two things: whether to colonize the Orman-čaj in the colder southern region, which would place them closer to the Ice Courts, or in the warmer northern reaches, giving them a foothold in the Unlucky Isles; and whether to do this in secret or through diplomacy.
  • Valkenschirm: Pompous pricks, but also fellow hunters. It’s complicated. The Zull cannot be, or become, werewolves, so there’s plenty of resentment for the culture of werewolf nobility in the region, and especially in Valkenschirm.
    • Want: The Zull have never won the Hühneraar, the Great Hunt (although they’ve had respectable showings), and several of the colonies are determined to win the next one. This would be so unprecedented as to risk souring diplomatic relations with Valkenschirm.
  • Skølprene: They worship the husk of a dead god and call it virtuous. But they always want to help, to donate, to be generous with their time and wealth. Baffling.
    • Want: To infiltrate the Church hierarchy using mind-clouding spores. A party of Zull diplomats, themselves spore-emitters, will secretly include several assassin-spies. The latter will disperse spores that allow them to remotely “view” Church locations, use spore-based mind reading to learn the Church’s secrets, and otherwise clandestinely commit acts of war.
  • Myedgrith: Everything about this place is confusing to us. Yet we can’t deny that their masquerades and balls and ceremonial activities are strangely compelling.
    • Want: To throw a masquerade ball that outdoes the best Myedgrith can offer. There is currently much confusion among the Zull about how best to do this, but consensus on it being a unified effort with all of the colonies contributing.
  • Lonþyr: A rich but prickly target for piracy. The Zull find that piracy against fellow Ice Courts is complicated, but pillaging a wealthy country across the Greatwater has few local consequences. Lonþyr has a navy, but its martial focus is to the north, fighting the Grshniki gnomes; until that changes, the Zull will continue to see it as prey.
    • Want: To sink their entire navy. With enough of the Zull god-colonies cooperating — not a given! — this is something they could achieve in a single season of especially ferocious piracy.
  • Yrfeđe: A ripe target for plunder, with a navy too sparse and weak to make them a threat. Fun to antagonize.
    • Want: The Zull are curious if bioluminescent fungus can keep the đargnr at bay, so they’ve quietly introduced several species to Yrfeđe’s southern reaches. If the fungus does the trick, Zull diplomats intend to propose that they be granted a large colony along the coast in exchange for supplies of the fungus, essentially carving off a piece of Yrfeđe that would become Zull territory.

Lonþyr

  • Ahlsheyan: A sleeping giant, fortunately too consumed by regional problems to turn its eye on Lonþyr. If Ahlsheyan ever decided to invade Lonþyr, or even just blockade it by sea, the outcome would be utter devastation for Lonþyr.
    • Want: The nobility craves works of art to show their status, and Ahl artwork is renowned throughout Dormiir. A noble family has their sights set on the last piece produced by the now-deceased artist Urug Yula, a giant obelisk that took 150 years to reach its current perfect, environmentally-shaped state. Beloved throughout Ahlsheyan, this piece is not for sale.
  • Valkenschirm: A whole country of werewolves? Keep those fucking beasts as far away from us as possible, just in case that’s actually true.
    • Want: An accurate threat assessment of just how dangerous Valkenschirm actually is to Lonþyr. To that end they’ve deployed a sentient artifact under the government’s command to spy on the Valken courts: the Carriage of Venom. Lonþyr unearthed the Carriage from beneath the mountains, and while the artifact has sworn to obey the Lon it’s also quite dangerous. It can change its shape, and can dispatch shapeshifting automatons from within its interior (which is never seen). It has no scent, so the theory is that werewolves won’t be able to detect it.
  • Skølprene: Peace-loving, weak, and weird. Not a threat, and apparently uninterested in the politics of the Gilded Lands, so of no consequence.
    • Want: It gets cold in Lonþyr, and the wealthy prize heatsones from the Ice Courts. Several Lon families have offered missionaries and other church emissaries from Skølprene land for churches and embassies in exchange for heatstones, not recognizing the threat that the Celestial Harmony poses.
  • Myedgrith: Insufferable, but secretly much of Lonþyr’s upper class wishes they were as cool as the Myedine. Myedgrith, despite being icebound, does “high society” so well that it makes Lonþyr look like a cultural backwater.
    • Want: Heatstones. The Lon nobility has heard rumors Yrfeđe already has one, and now nothing but having two — or better, dozens — will do. Like Yrfeđe, Lonþyr doesn’t realize wars have been fought in the Ice Courts over heatstones. The price will be high, to say the least.
  • Zull Pyrendi: A strange place full of pirates who like nothing better than preying on Lonþyran ships and coastal villages. Fortunately, they’re far enough away that they can otherwise largely be ignored.
    • Want: To convince Zull pirates to prey on Yrfeđe instead of plaguing Lonþyr. Money might work, but Lonþyr is first going to offer to assassinate one or more targets in the Ice Courts on behalf of Zull Pyrendi. A clandestine “diplomatic” mission team has already been assembled.

Yrfeđe

  • Ahlsheyan: A potential ally against the đargnr (due to their expertise in surviving in darkness), but we don’t have much to offer them — so, neutral.
    • Want: To recruit elite Ahl tunnel fighters to join the Yr and Grshniki forces currently battling the đargnr beneath the Gilded Lands.
  • Valkenschirm: We have a healthy respect for wild creatures, so a country of werewolves earns our respect. But they also have time for fancy dress and parties and whatnot? That place must be strange.
    • Want: For the winner of the next Great Hunt to come here and hunt đargnr. This is the sort of complex, dangerous, time-consuming, open-ended problem Yrfeđe would love to hire adventurers to solve.
  • Skølprene: Their god (or “god”) makes no sense. But they’re stuck in the snow; we’re stuck in the shadows. Maybe they have something to offer us?
    • Want: Priests from Skølprene have told anyone who will listen that the Harmonious and Celestial Abäschern will save Yrfeđe from all manner of ills. This is tempting enough that some Yr want the Church to prove it by building a grand temple in Yrfeđe
  • Myedgrith: Neutral. We have little contact with them, and all the rumors we hear about Valkenschirm seem to go for Myedgrith as well.
    • Want: Heatstones. A Yr noble purchased one from a Zull smuggler, and word of this wonder — which would be welcome during Yrfeđe’s cold winter nights — has spread far and wide. Now the Yr want more, not realizing that wars have been fought in the Ice Courts over the disposition of relatively small numbers of heatstones.
  • Zull Pyrendi: Neutral. Yrfeđe’s minimal coastline and general lack of wealth mean it’s not an attractive target for Zull pirates, and Yrfeđe is too bound up with local problems to worry much about what’s going on across the Greatwater.
    • Want: Some Yr speculate that the properties of the various Zull fungi might be able to consume the đargnr by rotting out the creatures’ homes and swallowing them whole. They want to secure the Zull’s aid in their fight, and they’ll do whatever it takes — up to and including letting the Zull found a new fungus colony in Yrfeđe.

At the moment I’m not sure what’s next for Godsbarrow, but since I work on it every day I will have to pick something by tomorrow! I’ve got a Godsbarrow side project underway that I might move back onto the front burner. The other low-hanging fruit would be to pick a map edge and start a new region — probably either the blank map tile in the current big map, or someplace north of the Gilded Lands and/or the Unlucky Isles.

(This post is one of a series about worldbuilding with Worlds Without Number. I’m using the setting-creation approach detailed in Worlds Without Number [paid link], which is a fantastic resource.)